Developing School Capacity for Diversity

schoolcapacity_policybriefFor children of migrant background, school quality is critical to ensuring academic success. Research shows that school quality has a greater impact on the education outcomes of migrant children compared to their peers of higher socioeconomic status or ethnic majority background. Therefore, any comprehensive strategy to improve the educational position of migrant children must work to improve the quality of schools themselves.

School quality, or professional capacity, encompasses the capacity of its teachers, administrators, and other staff. It can be measured by examining the content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and interpersonal skills of instructors; the level of responsibility administrators give teachers; and whether all staff work together in a cohesive, professional learning community. Schools with these communities, in which teachers work continuously to improve their teaching practices and learn from their colleagues, are more effective in encouraging student achievement in disadvantaged areas than are schools where teachers do little to reflect on their practices.

This policy brief uses the concept of professional capacity to frame SIRIUS’s recommendations regarding school quality. It identifies four key areas for improvement: language diversity, the learning environment, social psychology and acculturation, and community connections. To develop expertise in these areas, the brief outlines three strategies for policymakers:

  1. build professional learning communities that focus on diversity;
  2. build networks of expertise on diversity;
  3. and develop teacher training programs dedicated to diversity.

Download Policy Brief on School Capacity for Diversity

The Brief is also available for download in French, German and Spanish.

This policy brief is part of a series produced by the SIRIUS Network in collaboration with MPI Europe, which focuses on how policies at the EU level and within individual Member States can better support the education outcomes of young people with a migrant background.

Via Migration Policy Institute 

Teacher Training and Professional Capacity – Stakeholder meeting report

Participants of workshop for migrant teachers

On Thursday, 5th June 2014, Migration Policy Group hosted a SIRIUS stakeholder meeting on the topic of teacher training and professional capacity. This meeting followed on from a 1 ½ day meeting of migrant teachers where they discussed both important skill sets and policy recommendations on how to better equip teachers for diverse classrooms.

The stakeholder meeting brought together these teachers with a migration background, other educational practitioners and school leaders as well as researchers, policy makers and civil society organisations to discuss skills that teachers need in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. In addition, a focus was put on how teachers are prepared in teacher training institutions and supported during their career.

The meeting was opened by Sarah Cooke O’Dowd from the Migration Policy Group welcoming a group of about 30 participants. Eva Degler, also from the Migration Policy Group, continued by giving a short overview about the contents of capacity training, best practices and the role of the EU in enhancing teacher training (See Presentation).

Sabine Severiens

Sabine Severiens from the Erasmus University Rotterdam then presented recommendations from her research on professional capacities and areas of expertise together with the migrant teachers who shared their successful strategies and gave insights into their professional experiences (See Presentation). The SIRIUS Report on Building Professional Capacity concerning the educational position of migrant children had originally identified five main areas of expertise necessary for the professional capacity of teachers in diverse classrooms (language diversity, didactics, social psychology and identity development, parental involvement and school-community relationships). During the teacher meeting, they had also identified the need for additional space in the curriculum, training/familiarity with the development of migration history, diagnostic tests and the effectively utilising school surroundings as additional desired expertise.  It was striking that hardly any of the teachers present had received initial training. Moreover, it was left to their own initiative to attend in-service training and bring up issues of inclusive education in their schools.

Piet van Avermaet from the University of Ghent and the Centre for Diversity and Learning then spoke about how to respond to diversity in education, focussing on the role of multilingualism, teachers’ expectations of immigrant pupils and the challenge of rendering diversity a core issue for policy making in education (See Presentation).

DSCN4350The last hour of the meeting was spent discussing parental and community involvement, different strategies for second language learning and the positive impact of collaborative and open-minded school leadership. Centres of expertise should be developed in schools that include interdisciplinary teams which support each other and thus increase the capacity of the whole school. These centres would include teachers, psychologists, guidance councillors etc. This would supply vital support to teachers who agreed that, at present, they are largely left alone in responding to the needs of diverse learners. Making second language learning and intercultural education an integral part of teacher training curricula was also considered crucial. At present, universities across Europe do not or only sporadically offer such training modules. Ideally, such training should become a transversal issue that is woven through all levels of teacher training. In addition, more in-service training programmes should be offered and school leaders should strongly encourage professional development in this field. Lastly, a number of participants remarked that many projects are still incidental and very rarely evaluated, which renders impact assessment and informed policy-making difficult. Furthermore, their funding often means that they have support for only a limited period of time. Structural support for good practices is necessary to make them sustainable.

Meeting Report, Programme and Participants

Background Teacher training and professional capacity

The Netherlands: Platform Migrant Parents and Education



On 3 April 2014, I spoke with Lisette Massink, who works for FORUM in the Netherlands to tell me more about the project and their work in the field of inclusive education.

SIRIUS: Why was FORUM set up?


FORUM was set up after the fusion of a number of national level migrant organisations that had been founded to protect the interests of specific migrant groups, namely of the Turkish, the Moroccan, Surinam, Antillean, and Moluk communities respectively.  While FORUM initially continued to focus on protecting the interests and improving the position of migrant groups in the Netherlands, the focus has since shifted to playing the role of a “knowledge institute” that aims to gather and develop knowledge on all issues pertaining to the integration and position of migrants in the Netherlands, and translate this knowledge to practical / workable solutions.

How does FORUM support inclusive education?

FORUM conducts research on different themes regarding education opportunities and policies and gives policy advice at the national and municipal levels through written reports, meetings with policy makers and public meetings. In addition, FORUM implements projects for migrant parents and children at schools.

cito-15127168-rotaHow was PAOO run?

In 2006, FORUM set up PAOO (Platform Allochtone Ouders en Onderwijs, Platform of Migrant Parents in Education), a seven year project for and by migrant parents to strengthen their representation in schools and to change attitudes among education practitioners towards migrant pupils. In its first phase, the focus was to localise migrant parents in bigger cities in the Netherlands and establish platforms to raise the awareness of other migrant parents, get in touch with municipalities and schools and present the perspective of migrant parents. After four years, an evaluation showed that it was very difficult to maintain such a structure without professional support at the local level. It became apparent that it is a very big effort to get migrant parents together, approach schools, maintain this dialogue and actually bring about change. Raising awareness among parents was not that difficult, parents know very well what they want for their children. But the initial set-up expected too much time and commitment from parents who are really busy with their work, family and children. Such a structure would have needed professional backup or additional support through a paid position. At the same time, the Ministry of Education, that funded the project, preferred for the second phase an approach that was more focussed on the role of schools.

As a result, in the next three years of the second phase FORUM was more involved and worked less on a city level, but more directly with schools all across the country, mostly primary schools and a few secondary schools with large groups of migrant students. We advised schools on how to improve cooperation with migrant parents through concrete actions in schools. It is very important to create a connection between the learning environment of the child in school and at home. Then, schools can also have a better insight into how parents themselves think about school and childhood development. We also developed a course for parents where they could discuss how to work together with schools, support their child’s development and how to successfully raise a child bilingually. We want to show how important parents’ impact can be, especially in the Netherlands, where parents are expected to be proactive and approach teachers when there is a problem.  After completion of the second phase, FORUM has continued stimulating and advising schools and further developing and making available instruments for strengthening the participation of migrant parents in education.

How do you reach out to migrant parents?

The first step is to reach out to migrant communities through members that have a broad network, and are already well integrated and from their own experience aware of the challenges migrant parent face supporting their children’s education. We also connect directly with less integrated and conscious migrant groups in the cities, going to places where migrant parents meet. There is a lot of potential, especially among immigrants who have been in the country for a while, to volunteer and offer their support to others. But then again, this is also a question of time. In some of the cities, even when the funding stopped, they still continued with those platforms, which is very impressive.

vve-rotaWhat main challenges do you face in your work on parents and teachers?

One problem we face is to get schools and teachers to see migrant children as equally capable. While in some schools that is the case, in others, teachers are prejudiced and anticipate that migrant children will not perform well. Even if they do, some teachers think that they shouldn’t recommend them for higher secondary education because they assume that there is not enough support at home. In many cases, this discrimination is also subconscious, but if there is no contact with the parents, the teacher will invest even less in the child. The relationship between parents and the teacher is very important for the teacher’s perception of the child. Many teachers do not see migrant parents as valuable partners and this attitude is a major obstacle when working towards including migrant parents. We saw that school leadership is really important in that regard. In the second phase, we worked with the school team and leadership to analyse their attitudes towards migrant children and then worked towards changing them. It is the responsibility of the school to involve parents; therefore schools must train their teachers and make an effort to reach out to parents. As a consequence, parents are more likely to become active in that school. As long as schools don’t see that necessity and it’s only the parents who are very motivated, then inclusion of migrant parents will not work.


SIRIUS Stakeholder meeting: “The face of diversity: How to increase the representation of people with a migrant background in education” – Brussels – 19 March

Date: 19 March 2014vlor

Place: Flemish Education Agency – VLOR (Vlaamse Onderwijsraad), Avenue des Arts 6, 1210 Brussels

Time: 10:30 – 13:00, followed by lunch

The increased representation of people with a migrant background amongst education stakeholders in European schools is an important issue to the SIRIUS European policy network, and was highlighted as a common objective amongst the Brussels stakeholders in a SIRIUS meeting that took place in March 2013.

This is an important topic as immigrants and their descendants are under-represented in the education sector and in the organisations that influence school and education policy. Increased diversity within school leadership/staff/parental organisations will not only improve the attitudes of the native population, but also the outcomes of the students with a migrant background. Furthermore, it will increase the involvement of the immigrant community and improve social integration in general.

The main objective for this meeting is to discuss practical and policy measures on how to effectively increase the diversity among educational practitioners in order to develop recommendations informing European and national policy makers about concrete steps to achieve these aims.

Download Programme

Download Download Background Paper